Family on the Move 4: Carolyn Drewery and Family
From Singapore we head to Tokyo to meet with Carolyn Drewery another expert on relocating family and living abroad. Let’s learn from her vast experience and practical tips.
Name: Carolyn Drewery
Home country: United Kingdom
Carolyn with her son Jasper
Taken after her Taiko drumming
performance in Tokyo, 2014
“I’ve been taking Taiko lessons
for a year now. I love it –
a great release of energy!” – C.D.
DDoA: Why is your family constantly moving?
CD: My Husband works in Hotels & Restaurants, with promotion usually comes a move to a different country. He has also occasionally had to switch companies which also brings a move to different place.
DDoA: How many times have you moved already?
Aug 2006 – moved from London to Tokyo
Jan 2010 – moved from Tokyo to Hong Kong (3.5 years total Tokyo first time)
Jan 2011 – moved from Hong Kong to Singapore (1 year total in Hong Kong)
Feb 2013 – moved from Singapore back to Tokyo (2 years total in Singapore)
So we have been in Tokyo second time around for 1.5 years now and still counting!
DDoA: TIPS: Before leaving current country
CD: Get the packers in early for a quote and always go for the full service. If you have kids getting the movers to do everything and you supervise takes a huge amount of stress out of the situation. They are being paid to do this so make the most of it!!
- Find out about closing bank accounts and cancelling mobile phones in advance too as sometimes they come with some nasty penalties.
- Check about electrical appliances, i.e.: wether your current ones will work in your new country, Japan can be very tricky as not many appliances from UK, Hong Kong or Singapore work here, Sayonara sales (as we call them here in Japan) are a great idea as you can sell or give lots of things away and this leaves less things to be packed.
- If you have kids try and fit some of their favourite toys etc. into a suitcase as they may not see their personal things for a few weeks, it may be worth considering airfreighting some things if you need a lot of things.
- Research your new country as much as possible!! Places to live, schools, public transport etc. and also double check the visa situation, companies usually do this for you but you may have to visit an embassy in your current country a few weeks before you leave. As for schools, you may have to apply early and go on to a waiting list or your child may have to have entry interview. Some countries have as much as a two year waiting list so best check it out as soon as you can.
DDoA: TIPS: Upon arriving at new country
- Usually your possessions will always come after you arrive yourself so if you are staying in a hotel or serviced apartment this gives you time to research your area especially if you haven’t had a chance to get accommodation. I have lived in our new apartment with very little before as our personal effects took nearly 3 weeks to arrive, it is do-able but I would’t recommend it the novelty soon wears off!!
- As soon as you get apartment try and get internet connection and mobile phone. It’s surprising how much we miss these things especially when they are not so easily available, love or hate the internet it’s a life saver when living abroad!!
- Open a bank account, if your employer/company hasn’t already done so, you can’t do much without this!! If its already sorted then try and get your own cash card as well as your husband, he may not like it but again in an emergency you may need it.
- Find out about babysitters and helpers quite quickly and always try to get a personal recommendation, you never know when you will need one of these in an emergency situation. This is always quite easy if you have kids in school and they can sometimes help with this too, schools can be a great source for help and guidance. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Find out where your home countries embassy is, you never know when you might need it!!
Photo of Carolyn, husband Steve and oldest son Billy
“This was taken in 2006 at Tokyo Disneyland, we had only been in Tokyo a week or so!
A wonderful shot of the joy of childhood.” – C.D.
DDoA: SURVIVAL TIPS:
- The best survival tip I think would be, be open minded!! It’s not going to be the same as home or your previous country. Learn to embrace everything, the culture, the climate, its amazing to get this opportunity make the most of it. It’s going to be hard at times and as long as you realise this it will make it easier.
- Try to also join playgroups, classes, PTA groups, these can be a very valuable source of help and information. It is also the best way to make good friends and you will always find someone in a very similar situation as you.
- I think the best way to get to know your new area is to walk as much as you can, if the climate allows it. I got to know my local area in Tokyo by just walking around (with my young son in a buggy!) discovering things. At that time, I didn’t have Google maps just an ordinary map! This is not that easy as the address system in Japan can be tricky to master. It’s amazing what you find just round the corner away from the main road or train station.
- Learn a few simple words in the local dialect/language, please, thank you, excuse me etc. You may feel like you don’t know the language at all but local people really appreciate if you try a bit!!
DDoA: Your easiest and worst ‘move’ experience?
CD: My easiest move was leaving Singapore to come back to Tokyo, I was more experienced in the process, my kids were older, and we had more help financially from the company for moving costs. I got to actually keep my furniture this time. The flip side was that I was very sad to leave Singapore as I liked it there very much.
My most difficult move was the first one to Tokyo. I had a young 15 month old son and knew very little of the Japanese culture. We also had only 75kgs allowance for personal goods, trying to fit your life into effectively three suitcases was very hard. Several times I did wonder why I was doing this crazy thing and I was quite homesick at first.
Billy and Jasper on glass chair
“This was taken at Christmas 2013 at Sakura Dori, Roppongi, Tokyo. It’s a yearly event to go and look at the Christmas lights on Sakura Dori. In spring it’s full of cherry blossom but at Christmas this is just as pretty. ” – C.D.
DDoA: Your favourite country to live in. State reasons.
CD: Tokyo – Having lived here twice the first time around was very hard and very different to the second time round. I guess I did all the hard work first time round!! Tokyo is an amazing city with so much going on, its a very safe place to live, especially with kids. Aside from that, there is a sense of achievement that you can get through and live with the craziness and madness. I also love the seasons here, they are similar to the UK but more extreme, Spring and Autumn are beautiful.
Billy by the mosaic stream in Sentosa
“This was taken in Singapore 2011, by the big Merlion statue on Sentosa Island. One of my favourite artistic places in Singapore.” – C.D.
DDoA: Your least favourite country to live in. State reasons.
CD: Hong Kong – The pollution is very bad and I didn’t want to bring my children up in that kind of atmosphere. There are also many, many tower blocks with not a lot of greenery in between, as there is a lack of space, but to me it always looked like a pack of cards waiting to fall down. We also lived quite far from the Island so there was a big feeling of isolation and loneliness. We were only there a year so I guess I should have given it a fair chance but at the time it really wasn’t the place for me. If you are single or a couple without kids its a great place to entertain and go out.
DDoA: How does the constant move affect your children? your family life? your personal goals?
CD: Children: I am very lucky that I have great children who seem to sail through every move. They are at the age where it doesn’t effect them too much, however as they get older they take more in and are starting to miss family back home a lot more. There is also the issue of school, we have to be very careful now as my older son is 9 and if we move in the middle of school year it will effect his progress.
- Family Life: Family life has improved for us now as my husband does less hours than he used to, also I guess we spend a lot of time together as we rely on each other a lot more as we don’t have other family here with us. As for family back in the UK we miss them terribly and I am very conscious that the children are missing out on grandparents and cousins. Thank goodness for Skype and visits home.
- Personal Goals: My personal goals have been the biggest sacrifice for me as I haven’t worked full time for 9 years now, so effectively I have given up my career. If I didn’t have my kids then it would have been worse but they are my personal goals now as they need me more than ever. There is a need to re-focus some kind of career for myself now though as the children get older and are in full time education. I had a part time job in Singapore that I loved but I had to give that up and finding employment in Japan is very difficult because of the language barrier.
The Drewery Family, photo taken in 2010 while on holiday in Cebu, Philippines.
“This was our first family holiday as four! One of the best holidays!
We were living in Hong Kong at that time.” -C.D.
DDoA: Please share 2 things you have learned from your constant move about people and life in general
CD: I have really learned how to put myself out there, be confident and make friends otherwise it can be pretty lonely. By being in the same situation as other expats you make some amazing friendships and meet people you would have never normally met. One very important lesson i have learned is to not judge anyone by first impressions, I have been very surprised many times of the kindness and generosity of people you wouldn’t have thought possible based on face value.
So do… as Carolyn advises:
the best way to get to know your new area is to walk as much as you can. It’s amazing what you find just round the corner away from the main road or train station. And remember to put yourself out there – be confident and make friends; otherwise it can be pretty lonely.